For the victims of sex trafficking in Ohio, the recruiters are usually women, and many buyers are men in positions of power and authority.
Those are two of the key findings from a three-year study of human trafficking in Columbus and four other major Ohio cities. The report was based on a survey of 328 self-identified victims, including some who were adults and no longer involved in the industry. Released yesterday, the study was issued by the attorney general's Human Trafficking Commission and conducted by Celia Williamson, a professor of social work and criminal justice at the University of Toledo.
"The idea was to be able to identify the early stages," Williamson said. "It's much, much better to identify the high-risk youth and divert them before they get trafficked."
Potential warning signs mentioned in the report include prior abuse and a history of running away from home. In Columbus, one year before they entered human trafficking, nearly half of the victims had an older boyfriend, 46 percent were unsure of where they would eat or sleep and 44 percent had trouble in school. And more than 60 percent of victims from Columbus said they were persuaded to enter the industry in part by another woman who sold herself.
"Because of this report, we now have more insight into who is more likely to get trafficked and how to prevent it," said Attorney General Mike DeWine.
A sample of 43 victims provided information about the professions of the "johns" -- the buyers -- in the human-trafficking industry. Although victims do not always know the profession of those they serve, Williamson said they might know the profession of a regular customer.
The profession that victims most frequently reported as manipulating them into providing sexual services was law enforcement, at 47 percent. The other professions of buyers included businessmen, drug dealers, truckers and lawyers. Also on the list: politicians, military men, teachers, government employees, judges and pastors and ministers.
"We've got to talk about the buyers," Williamson said. "It's uncomfortable, but if we shy away from it then we're not serious about reducing the problem."
Columbus Police Lt. Mark Lang said people from "all walks of life" have been seen during sting operations. He agreed that the department needs to increase its focus on the buyers.
"When I read the report I take it to heart and know that it's something we need to work harder on," Lang said.
State Rep. Teresa Fedor, a Toledo Democrat, said the report also will be very important from a legislative perspective.
"We need to strengthen the laws for runaways in the state of Ohio," she said. "I'm very concerned about some of these statistics."
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